High SchoolPioneer Charter School of Science II
Undergraduate EducationB.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University, 2023
Graduate EducationM.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University, 2023
Self-admitted “car nut” and 2023 Thoreau Scholar Aiman Najah is finding unique ways to bring his personal passions to bear on developing solutions to our environmental challenges. As an intern with the startup electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian, Aiman completed a granular analysis of energy costs at Rivian’s new plant in Georgia, “developing an internal framework for mechanical equipment vendor management and data acquisition, while implementing transition from Excel to Python-based calculation and optimization to reduce plant modeling time from two-plus days to thirty-two hours.” Say that three times fast.
“If you had told me as a kid that we needed to worry about the environment I probably would have said, ‘What do you mean? The environment seems fine.’ I mean, I'm a kid in a playground, right, and things seem just dandy. But now, understanding the gravity of what's at stake, it's become much more serious. I’m thinking about next generations and asking myself how I, as an engineer, can figure out ways for us to change how we act to mitigate those problems.”
While saving nature may not have been top-of-mind for young Aiman, his Muslim faith surely was. “My faith has been an anchor in everything I've chosen to do,” he says, “and for me, one of the core tenets personally is respect for life on Earth. I mean, it's mentioned in scripture that we've been created as custodians of the Earth.”
Aiman knew early on that he had a quantitative mind. “I've always enjoyed physics, calculus and chemistry, and the engineering side of things.” But he also loved the garage, getting dirty, working with his hands and getting tangible results. At Columbia he joined Knickerbocker Motor Sports, the college’s EV race car club, working to improve the efficiency of cooling systems. He found himself seeking opportunities to merge his passions, applying his quantitative skills to practical problems. Increasingly, he gravitated toward energy and improving the efficiency of energy systems, whether in manufacturing, automotive, or consumer. “Because it has to work, right? I mean, that's the bottom line," he points out. "We could change everybody's mind in the whole wide world but until we figure out how to actually change the systems that are powering our enterprises it doesn’t matter what you believe.”
What’s especially meaningful for Najah about being part of the HDTF network is the sense of community. He admires the accomplishments of prior Thoreau Scholars and values them as role models and trail blazers, helping to clear the path forward. “I think that today, in some ways, policy is finally starting to catch up with capability, enabling us as scientists and engineers to implement solutions. And some of the individuals I’ve met who were the first Scholars, almost a decade ago, have contributed a lot to that policy.” To be able to place himself within that cohort of positive achievement gives him confidence in his own choices.
Again he returns to the wellspring of faith. “It drove my decision to try to pursue a career where I could have an impact, where I could touch lives. One that is driven by a sense of compassion and the need to preserve the environment, to preserve what we have been given and what's around us, quite literally.” Working in the for-profit sector, he hopes and believes, will enable him to influence critical decision making for the good. “For example, we know the automotive industry is designed to generate profit. But for me, I've always wanted to take a step further, to see the design I do, the engineering, contribute to something greater, something that isn't only profit-driven.”
“There's a sense of accountability that each one of us has, to maintain and preserve what we have, to extend compassion, not just toward our Creator but toward everyone and everything around us, whether it be our environment, our communities, our society, or the planet itself.”